Quarter of business owners exceed EU Working Time Directive, finds AXA

11 February 2015 -


Owner-managers admit to working well past the suggested weekly hours, but say they would rather do so for themselves than toil for other bosses

Jermaine Haughton

The EU Working Time Directive’s recommendation of a maximum 48-hour working week is routinely surpassed by at least a quarter of small business owners in the UK, according to research from AXA Business Insurance. Its survey of 350 UK small business owners, conducted Taylor McKenzie, showed that 25% work for more than 51 hours per week, while a concerning 68% exceed the standard, 35-hour week. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, 3% regularly clock up exhausting weeks of at least 80 hours.

Introduced in 2003, the Working Time Directive was designed to put checks and balances on the health and safety risks associated with overwork. The regulations include a current, 48-hour limit on average weekly working hours, with other stipulations relating to overtime, rights to daily and weekly rest breaks, protections for night workers and paid annual leave of at least four weeks per year. While the rules do not apply to self-employed workers, the AXA study found that most small business owners would rather work long and unsociable hours under their own control than do the same for someone else.

For AXA Business Insurance managing director Darrell Sansom, self-employed workers must strike a balance between working hard and burning themselves out. “Running your own successful business can be a real labour of love,” he said, “so it’s no great surprise that most small business owners work beyond the standard 35-hour week, and are happy to do so. What could be a concern is the number of people who frequently put in more late nights and early mornings than experts consider safe or reasonable.”

He added: “Of course, hard work is to be applauded – but burnout is bad for business. Research shows that productivity declines after a 50-hour week, while longer hours also bring increased health, safety and reputational risks. So everyone needs some downtime, no matter how committed or effective they are. No one is invincible, and if you are regularly struggling to fit everything into your day, it might be time to take a step back, reflect and re-prioritise the key things that will protect your business and help it grow.”

At the start of the year, the European Commission opened up a consultation to review whether the current Working Time Directive correctly reflects the changes in working patterns, and remains an effective tool for protecting workers’ health and wellbeing. At present, individuals in some EU countries are allowed to set their own limits on weekly working time – such as the UK through its 1998 Working Time Regulations.

However, the Commission is reportedly assessing whether the option of allowing workers to opt out of the maximum 48-hour working week should be maintained as part of the current regulations – as well as how the rules should apply when a single worker is employed under several, concurrent contracts. More specifically, the impact of such a change could lead individuals to restrict the total number of hours they work under any contract to a maximum average of 48 hours.

While owner-managers may enjoy the momentum that comes with working under independent circumstances, overwork is still a serious problem and, with that in mind, AXA’s research provided some top tips to help hard working bosses manage their time efficiently. They include:

1. List it

With so many different tasks to complete every day that it’s impossible to keep everything inside your head. If you haven’t already done so, note your daily, weekly and monthly tasks to keep a rolling list of what you need to prioritise – and what can wait until tomorrow.

2. Take advantage of technology

We all know the “always on” culture digs into your personal time, but it can also help you get better organised too. Use better connectivity to your advantage and check out the range of apps that can save your business time.

3. Outsource

Time is money, so you may be better off outsourcing the parts of your business you struggle with to focus on the things you do best.

4. Trust your people

Your people really are your greatest asset! Hire effectively, and surround yourself with reliable people who care about your business as much as you do to ease the burden and make delegation easier.

5. Brain dump

The things on your mind can often stopping you completing the task at hand. Everyone has business worries and it’s important to review the risks to your business as it grows and adjust your business continuity plan accordingly. Making sure your business is protected means you can clear your fears and focus on action.

For further thoughts on performance management, sign up to this CMI short course.

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